This semi-autobiographical first novel, from the author of two true-crime works, is an anything-goes mashup involving child abductions and murders, time travel and the tribulations of a writer of the true-crime variety.
That writer is 34-year-old David Neff, living in Akron, Ohio, in 2012. When David was working as a journalist for an alternative newspaper, he became fascinated by the Brune case. Brune, proclaiming his innocence, had been executed 10 years earlier for the murder of several young girls. Working through his “haunted” papers, David became convinced the killer was Brune’s roommate, Trimble, and wrote an accusatory book. His research came at a cost. Brune, no killer but really bad news, tried to possess David’s spirit. The writer had psychotic episodes until his therapist prescribed a strong medication. It was all worth it; Trimble confessed and the book became a huge bestseller. Commercial success was accompanied by personal tragedy: David’s wife Elizabeth committed suicide. Four years pass and David’s publisher presses him to write another true crime story, this one about the eponymous Man: an Akron recluse, identity a mystery, found murdered in his home. A tangled tale indeed, as timelines dissolve and Renner goes back and forth between the Brune/Trimble story and the new story of The Man. It would be nice if David was a stable element in the flux, but he’s not. Foolishly ignoring his therapist’s advice, he goes off his meds to write his new book, with disastrous results. But it’s in the novel’s final third that we move deep into fantasy. David’s character splits in two and half of him arrives in 2036. As he says, “Understanding time travel and its ramifications is a bit like going insane.” True enough, in Renner’s world. A black egg will hatch as David returns to the present. Watch for a satanic cat and a second killer of young girls.
An incoherent muddle from start to finish.